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Whoever told you that microprocessors no longer needed to go faster and faster? Needless to say, chips in today's gadgets are adequate for most of our computing needs. Over the years, with the advent of the netbook and now the tablet, we need more battery life rather than faster processing. Yet, there are so many things that computers cannot do well enough as processors are not good enough. Intel and AMD seem bent on addressing these problems.

For example, try streaming a high-definition (HD) video while working on something else (probably in the background) on your computer. This may be difficult in India due to bandwidth constraints, but your processor won't be able to handle it even if you had fat pipes running to your home. Or try using a HD camcorder with your hands and zoom while recording; your hands won't keep still enough for you to record a flawless HD video. Or, better still, try converting — quickly — an HD video format into one that can be played on a mobile device. In many such situations, current processors are not good enough.

Last week, just before the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Intel launched a new processor architecture that will solve some of these problems immediately, and some others slowly over a period. The Sandy Bridge architecture is Intel's answer to the online video age. It is a generation ahead of the previous architecture, Nehalem, that is used in its current frontline processors like i3, i5 and i7. From now onwards, these processors, whose names will not change, will start using the Sandy Bridge architecture.

There are several improvements in the Sandy Bridge over its predecessor, but the most important one is the integration of the graphics processor to the main processor. Nehalem architecture had a separate chip outside the CPU, called north bridge, which consisted of the graphics unit, the memory controller, etc. In Sandy Bridge, north bridge is inside the main CPU. It would speed up video processing straightaway, to such an extent that you could multitask video watching with other work easily. It also offers better gaming experience through improved 3D image processing.

Sandy Bridge chips are otherwise energy efficient, will run cool and have next-generation turboboost technology. And Intel has added an interesting feature in these chips for the first time. Called Intel Insider, this feature is aimed at stopping video copying from inside the PC and authenticates content automatically, without using additional software. This would obviously annoy many consumers, but encourage Hollywood studios and other television networks to sell their creations online. It would let viewers buy video content once and stream it to other devices. It would encourage movie companies to make available movies online simultaneously with DVD releases. In fact, it is even possible to let viewers download the video in advance, but let them watch only at the time of release.

Improved video processing would help the progress of HD video. You could process video at higher and higher frame rates. Face detection would be easier. Real time algorithms could compensate for blurring by combining images. Faster processing can create very exciting possibilities for video. You could see some of them this year.

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 24-01-2011)